I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.
I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.
I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.
I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.
My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).
I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.
I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”
Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.
I could spend the next twenty minutes studying. I have been wanting to catch up on the reading I missed out on during my intensively-paced introduction to child development course. I read tonight’s chapter about substance abuse while on my patio at home and at the pool laying in the sun over the warm weekend. I wasn’t able to get all of the reading done for tonight, however. I am lacking on one chapter. I am choosing to do something, rather, to ease my mind, because studying takes concentration, and there’s only so much concentration in a day a person can take. I didn’t get as much done at work today as I could have and I don’t mind. No one is looking over my shoulder. There are days where I strive to be my best, and there are days where I just “am”. I give myself a bit of a break. I cannot imagine, however, doing anything but my best when I am a therapist.
I’ve been told that I am preppy, that I have a hard time giving up control, that I like to tell people what to do. What else comes to mind? I know I have high standards for myself. I’m not so sure I like the word “preppy” because it seems to have a negative connotation. I have a month left in my abnormal psychology course and I am getting about 100% in the class thanks to some extra credit points which were offered. My 92% in the 8-week course was kind of abysmal. My 4-week 3-unit intensive course netted me about a 96% which is decent. If I get 98% I’m not satisfied because I think, “I could have done better.” But of course, I have to remind myself that I cannot be perfect. Perfectionist. That’s another one I’ve been called.
These are all new traits that I’ve developed in the last year. I didn’t know I liked to teach and that I enjoy being the “boss”. Maybe those qualities were within me, but they were hidden, undernourished, and dormant for all of my 20s. Age nineteen was the last year I had of freedom before the darkness really started to creep into my life. Now I’m 33 and applying to graduate school. It’s something I have always wanted to do, at least for about half of my life. Five years ago I could not have foreseen myself being in the place where I am today.
Gratitude. Maybe this is a journal of gratitude. Can I list all of the things which are great about my life? I certainly don’t need to remind myself because I am living it every day. But then again, my moods shift and at times they plummet, and the reality is that I do need the reminders. I have a nice home. It is quaint and affordable and I have some nice possessions like my wall mirror, my L-shaped light green couch and my teak wooden lounge chair on the patio. I have my first and my own dining room table. I’ve never had my own dining room table before. Not since my marriage ended.
I have a life. I have a life that is worth living. I have my therapist and a few friends and my immediate family members which comprise the entirety of my social support. Although now I am my mother’s supporter, and it’s as it should be. The roles have shifted and she needs my support now, and I am strong enough to be able to be there for her.
Although I am extremely attached to my couch, the first piece of expensive furniture I bought after my divorce, I would actually give it up in an instant. I would give it up if it meant helping someone I love. I would give it up in an instant if the decision seemed imminent. But, I am not in that position right now. I just have to recognize that my possessions don’t own me. I own them. I gave away all of my nice ceramic painted planter pots when I had to downsize. No problem! I have simply bought new ones. Things, physical things, can be replaced. People and experiences cannot be replaced. I need to keep this in mind. I own so many things which I treasure: my paintings, my tea cups, my piano keyboard which rarely sees the sight of my fingers, some of my shoes even. As much as I enjoy having those things and using them, I need to remind myself that things, physical things, are replaceable. I keep repeating this because things, physical things, are what define my mother. The things she owns own her. She has not dealt with the traumas of her past and she cannot get rid of anything. She hoards and she will be moving out of her three bedroom home which is completely full of possessions, everywhere, on every surface, and they will be put in storage. I am not sure she will ever be able to afford a home big enough again which will fit all of her things. All I can do is be there for her, visit her, talk to her, accept her for who she is. I can pray for her healing, but that has to come with a willingness which is not currently there. Not yet. I can always hope.
It’s the dawn of a new day… no, no, no. It isn’t actually. It’s an hour before sunset and it is my privilege to be sitting outside under a blue sky on campus. I just got out of work and I have a half hour before class, so I figure I can make use of this time and have the luxury of writing a blog entry. I was elegantly dressed at work and I brought my bright pink duffel bag with gym clothes and flip flops to change into. It always feels great to not be in work clothes since I spend over 40 hours a week in them anyway. I wonder if in grad school I’ll feel compelled to dress formally as at work or casual as I am now. I suppose it will depend on what others do in my cohort. But this is undergrad and I totally fit in in gym clothes. I still don’t get the whole torn jeans thing. You buy jeans and other clothing items that look totally mutilated. I don’t get it. Not for me. Not of my generation or stylistic comprehension. But I will reserve judgement.
It’s just cool enough, 71 degrees and in the shade, to be wearing a nice, baggy sweater. I love covering myself up but letting my feet roam free in the air. I don’t like tight clothing unless it is black because then you can’t really see the shape as well. Even if I were super skinny… no, no, no. Yet again, no. I don’t want to be thin. I want to be healthy. I want to be as I am now.
I am so lucky to have been able to afford a new and lightweight computer. I look at myself out on this slab of a concrete bench with a laptop in my lap, typing away, and I think, wow, I am so modern. I have modern technology and my computer is portable. I can use it anywhere. I can connect to WiFi anywhere on campus. It just wasn’t like that when I went to college. I don’t even use a physical notepad any longer because I take all of my notes on a Word document. What ever happened to the buy-it-once computer technology. It’s because Microsoft can make more money off of an annual subscription fee. Plus the software gets updated automatically.
This morning was amazing. This weekend was amazing. It’s all because I have not been feeling depressed. I woke up before my alarm clock. Can you believe it? Me, of all people. Me, the person who used to have three alarms set on my phone with three snooze options per alarm. That’s an alarm ringing every 5 to 10 minutes for 45 minutes long. My first alarm would ring at 7:00 and my last snooze would be at 7:50 in order to make the short drive to start work by 8:30.
I woke up before my alarm because of a nightmare. But in that bad dream I was saying “no” to my abuser. I tried closing my eyes to think of something pleasant, such as imagining sitting in my therapist’s calming waiting room, but the visualization didn’t work. So I got up. I actually got up. I put my feet on the ground and slowly stood up. That’s all it took to get up. I am so amazed. Why does it feel insurmountably difficult to drag myself out of bed every single day, but today, for whatever reason, it was easy? I want more of these days!
I had coffee. I only make myself coffee on weekends when I sleep in and I have nowhere to be in the mornings. I purposefully don’t schedule my weekend mornings because I know just how difficult it is for me to get out of bed. But today, on a weekday, on a Monday, I made myself espresso in my stovetop moka. I even sat outside to drink it. I felt the cool air rushing over my skin while I was still in pajamas.
My patio is filled with a bag of potting soil, a new plant, and new pots. I have big plans for my patio. Two years ago, in 2013 and 2014 when I had my one bedroom apartment which I could afford only at the time, I had a potted garden on my balcony. I had the most beautiful ceramic pots of blue and other colours. I grew sunflowers and morning glories and basil and zucchini and mint and succulents and I still had my sentimental tree that I had grown since it was a baby tree for about eight years. I have since given that tree to my brother and his girlfriend and I’m fine with them having it. I can grow a new tree. Wouldn’t it be cool to grow an avocado tree? It takes years to finally bear fruit. I have only ever gotten a seed to grow two feet tall, but that in itself was an accomplishment. I used to take pictures of my flowers and send them to friends. All of this, I am going to do again. I am going to return to the person I was, the person who had hobbies and who did creative things, and filled her life with joy. It has taken a long time to come back to this place. But I did it. I am doing it.
I am the maker of my destiny. Those are powerful words. It means that I am in charge of my life now. It is assuming responsibility for the actions that I take within my life. There’s no more acting from the perspective of fear or hurt. Sound decisions based upon a balanced soul and rational mind control my life. Some things don’t always go as planned and there are setbacks. But those are part of the normal ebb and flow of ups and downs which comprise the human consciousness.
I have not been accepted into the two graduate programs I applied to. I had high hopes for both and both times I was disappointed to the point of being temporarily devastated. But I have recovered. Had I written about those incidents at the time those musings would have been infused with strong emotions. I am now in the process of applying to more graduate programs whose deadlines have been extended and others who simply have later deadlines for a Fall start.
I discovered the LPCC Masters of Science program in Early Childhood Mental Health. I hadn’t looked into it before, but the university which did not accept me for the MFT program said they could transfer my application to that department. I accepted. Ironically, my therapist teaches in that program as part of the faculty. If I get accepted into the program I will not be able to see him for therapy because dual relationships are not allowed. And if I go to see him for office hours as my professor our conversation must be limited to class material. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do not like the idea of not seeing him for therapy. My idea is that I will always see him, for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, the idea of him becoming my professional mentor is quite appealing. When I am in need of supervision during my practicum and internship, he might be available to guide me. Maybe it is time to graduate from his service as my psychotherapist. I would want to continue psychotherapy, and he does know colleagues to whom he would recommend me. However, the new therapist would know nothing about my past. I might not be able to be fully myself and fully open with her (yes, I am assuming it will be a female whom I would choose). I am often childlike in my expressions of joy, anger, and disappointment, and I might force myself to act in a more reserved and mature fashion. It doesn’t mean that I have to be less emotionally expressive.
Either way, I think my therapist is proud of me and will continue to be proud of me no matter what I choose to do. I can imagine my therapist teaching me about reflective practice, and guiding me to follow the beliefs and method and theory of psychotherapy toward which he leans. If I had to put my finger on a theoretical orientation which I might ascribe to him, it would have to be eclectic and nonspecific. Attachment work is a large part of our therapy together. He incorporates therapeutic techniques and interventions which he has refined and developed over the last 20 plus years. Whatever he does, it has worked. He always seems to know the right way to respond to me, and say the right thing. I always feel better after seeing him. I want to give this gift of calming peace and safety to other people.
To my readers,
Other than the number “five” added in below in not-so-surreptitious places, everything else is correct. The number of years of recovery and the number of years to get my MFT license are also correct. Ironically, this could have been a fictional story, but it’s not. This was one of the easiest scholarship essays I have written. I’m sure no one else will have a story like mine. The only thing I worry about is whether the essay judges will be concerned about not putting something so “serious” on their website and whether the judges’ views are affected by the stigma of mental illness. To some degree, all of us are affected by the stigma, no matter what side of it we stand on.
“May is the fifth month of the year. Write a letter to the number five explaining why five is important. Be serious or be funny. Either way, here’s a high five to you for being original.” (250 words or less)
On the fifteenth of May, five years ago, was the day I packed my car. I packed my car with all of the essentials: five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks. I put in five shirts and five of my favorite shoes, just for sentiment. I drove to the other side of the state and it took five times two hours to get to my mom’s house.
Five hours was amount of time it took for him to get home to an empty house and a note written in blood. The next day he changed the locks of my former home and five days later I was served with divorce papers.
Five was the number of times I was hospitalized from my suicide attempts, trying to undo all of the hurt and the trauma which had existed during those five years of my life.
Five times ten is the number of years that I wish he would get sent to prison for having raped me repeatedly and abused the innocence of the first five years of my adult life. Five women of the court were present when I gave my testimony and five days later they told me the case couldn’t go forward because I didn’t have enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it happened. Five years is how long it will take for me to become a trained marriage and family therapist so that I can help other women just like me.
I did it. I completed my three hour group interview with a graduate school MFT program which I hope to get into. We find out in two weeks if we got accepted. Then we have a month to decide whether to accept the acceptance. The two year program would start in the Fall. I did not make it into the state university. Today’s interview was with a private university. The program is a very good program and intensive. It is also expensive. There is no time to hold any sort of employment because all the student’s time is dedicated to the study of marriage and family therapy. I would be living off of loans and by the end of the two years I will be at least $100,000 in debt. I qualify for a minimal amount of a federal loan due to the FAFSA which I filed. The rest would be private loans. Considering I chose to file for bankruptcy less than two years ago, the interest on those private loans is going to be high. This is going to be a very expensive education, if I decide to go that route.
I am ready to fully commit myself to my future career. I want to do everything and anything it takes to get my MFT license and start practising as a licensed clinician. I am ready for the immense challenge. I am ready to face my inner demons and hone in on my life skills. In this profession, practitioners have to be very good at emotional regulation. I have a lot to learn.
I told my friend tonight that I think I was one of the only people there who had actually suffered mental illness myself. Many of the other interviewees, i.e. the competition, were coming straight out of their undergraduate college studies. They don’t have ten years of post-college life experience like I do. This is an advantage to me. My friend told me that I am surely not the only one who has experienced mental illness; that there are probably several other people who have, but that it’s not talked about because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
We were a total of 21 interviewees. Some flew in from the other side of the country to attend this interview. Some drove for hours to get here. A few, like myself, live in the city. The interviewees were split up into five groups, so basically four people per group. I have to say, there was one male and twenty females in the whole group. Quite a phenomenal statistic considering that 50 years ago the field of psychotherapy was still male-dominated. Everyone was dressed nicely, most in suits like myself. Everyone looked really put together. Most of the women had nice hair cuts, as opposed to my flowing long hair that reaches almost to my waist. It’s okay. We are all different.
For the three hours we had one room that we stayed in, and the interviewers rotated rooms. There was one professor and one current student paired with the professor, who were the interviewers and judges. They ask questions and the four of us answered in turn. The questions were personal and required deep thought and introspection. All of the other interviewees’ answers were really good. I mean, really good.
The first question was an introductory question asking us what about our lives and our past experiences has prepared us for this career path. I talked about how I grew up with a single mother who became a widow at the age of twentysix with twin three-year-olds. How we moved around a lot and between different countries. How we experienced racism when we were living in Germany and in Switzerland. I talked about having a lot of anger with my mother when I was growing up. Another question was, why specifically this university? All of the other participants answered first and along similar lines. That the emphasis on the multicultural perspective is important to them, that they like the biopsychosocial perspective. I didn’t say any of that garbage, meaning, I didn’t want to follow the trend and repeat what everyone else was saying or what we thought we were expected to say. I simply said I admire all of the research that the professors have done and that I would like to participate. The reason for me wanting to attend this program is that it is very intensive and really prepares the students for this profession. Another important reason is because I do not want to move out of this city; I intend to stay here.
One question was presented as follows. In therapy there are many setbacks. Some clients remain stagnant and seem to not progress, even for a period of years. Some decide to quit therapy and they don’t tell their therapist about it, they just never call back for a next appointment. In these cases often the therapist may believed that they have failed in a way. What is one example of a failure in your life and how did you deal with it? I spoke of the demise of my marriage, about how it was not a failure, instead, that as it turns out, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. That I have been in therapy for the last eight years and it took four years of therapy for me to gain enough strength and self worth to leave that abusive situation.
Name a person in your life who is completely different in values from you and how do you reconcile that difference? I talked about my mom and how it felt as if she wasn’t around enough for me when I was a child even though she tried really hard and worked long hours, and cooked us dinner every night from scratch as part of showing us her love. I talked about the fact that she doesn’t share the same love languages that I have, that she wasn’t big on physical touch or words of affirmation. And now, how she in a difficult relationship but refuses to go to therapy because she simply does not believe in it for herself. She has different views on therapy than I do. I reconcile these differences in that I know I cannot change her and that I must accept this. I must accept that she is very different from me and that she needs to make her own decisions and is responsible for her life. There’s nothing I can actively do to make her change, she has to want it.
What is one aspect of yourself that you want to change over the course of your professional career starting now and what are you doing about it? I don’t want to see myself as the victim any longer. For a long time I was held down and told that my abuser was the victim, not I. There was a lot of manipulation. Because of the domestic violence I am in a women’s group right now and it is amazing to see that each of the women have their own story yet we share that we all experienced the same sort of thing. I did not mention that it was sexual abuse. I feel that would have been crossing the line of self disclosure and of my comfort level.
If you were to speak about yourself from the perspective of someone who knows you very well, what would they say about you? I took on the persona of my best friend: she is intelligent and has been through a heck of a lot. She is a strong person. She takes me to my IVF appointments. We have such a close relationship that some people may be uncomfortable with our relationship. For example, when I was getting my eyebrows waxed, I got an eyelash in my eye, and she just reached over and took it out. The person doing the waxing said that we must have a very close relationship, implying that those are personal bubble boundaries which most people do not cross. A nurse after my surgery asked if we are childhood friends, and she answered, “no, we were just neighbours”.
There were some more questions and I revealed some more information about myself. During one of the sessions I did cry, when talking about the domestic violence I had experienced. This was the question about a failure in my life and how I dealt with it. Another time I choked up but the tears luckily didn’t come. While I was answering questions I noticed that I did not often look the interviewers in the eyes, and instead looked away and down. I noticed that other participants did the same thing.
Overall I feel good about how it went, but I was also physically relieved from the mental exhaustion of the intensity of the questions and answers. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and at the same time there were probably others who did not feel that the interview was as intense as I experienced it. I am going to be held in suspense for the next two weeks until I find out the verdict, whether they are going to offer me a position in the program for the next cohort. But I will also be very occupied with therapy, school, and work, that I know the time will pass by quickly.
This is exciting! Something good, something positive in my life. And the best part is knowing that I made it happen. I did this and no one else. I am the one who studied for the GRE for five months. I am the one who healed myself from being suicidal on a daily basis to having it happen merely once a month. I am the one who kept going back every week to therapy no matter how difficult my life seemed at the time. I attracted good people into my life. I am responsible for the fact that I have a strong support system in place filled with friends, close family members (my mom and my brother) and a health team (my therapist and my psychiatrist). I am the one who continues to take my medications twice a day. I, I, I. I did this. I get all of the credit for what my life has become. I am proud of myself.